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Top 10 Games I Played in 2013

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Due to how slow I can be at getting to new titles and finishing them, this list includes games that were published before 2013 – the only requirement here is that I played and beat it in 2013.  I have not added any PS4 titles either, since I intend to do a First Year of PS4 Retrospective at some point after November 15.

1. The Last of Us (PS3)
No surprise here.  This was Game of the Year for many sites, and it truly was one of those situations where all the hype and anticipation I had for it was rewarded by a title that exceeded what I thought a video game narrative could accomplish.  The ending of this game stayed with me, even vexed me, for days after with its profundity.  Naughty Dog turned in four spectacular games this last generation, and I believe they represent the very best of what the industry currently offers.

2. Tomb Raider (Xbox 360)
This game is really excellent – and is actually the last game I finished on Xbox 360 before liquidating that collection.  I think there were many who went into it with suspicion due to how poorly the series had been going in recent years, but I think Crystal Dynamics turned in a worthy reboot.  This title features some of the best third-person platforming and combat I’ve ever seen (truly), and the portrayal of Lara Croft was extremely well done (kudos to the lovely and talented Camilla Luddington).  For a long time, Lara was presented in a very objectified way, with her cartoonishly out-of-proportion features.  After years of this sexist portrayal, this reboot presents us with a very reasonable and human portrayal of the character.  I liked it so much I purchased it again for PS4.  (My God, it’s beautiful in 1080p/60fps.)

3. Journey (PS3)
For only being a couple of hours, there is no better example of a profound and moving experience in such an efficient package.  As I said in my review, Thatgamecompany’s take on multiplayer is especially noteworthy, as it manages to bring a sense of companionship and cooperation to a game that literally features no verbal communication whatsoever.  You don’t even know the name of the person you might end up journeying with until the credits roll.  And it works.  Beautiful, haunting score, and dazzling graphics.  This game is truly great.  And it means so much to so many different people; this was so strongly evidenced by hearing Shuhei Yoshida (President of Worldwide Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment) in tears as he described how it comforted him through tragedy (PlayStation Blogcast 099: Best of a Generation at timestamp 1:41:05).

4. Uncharted: Golden Abyss (PS Vita)
Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series set the bar for action/adventure platformers this last generation.  (It wasn’t until Tomb Raider that I thought a game had better mechanics for it.)  This title was developed by Sony Bend, however, and they did an extremely admirable job with it.  Using the same voice actor for series star, Nathan Drake, as well as the same sound design (including Uncharted’s great score), Golden Abyss was just about everything I wanted from a handheld version of this now classic series.  Indeed, this title alone convinced me that the Vita was worth owning, and I was rewarded with many other great experiences because of it.

5. inFAMOUS (PS3)
This is quite an old game now, but I didn’t get around to playing it until I heard for the millionth time how great this series is.  What’s so great is that you ostensibly play a superhero, and you feel powerful right from the start.  Despite this, the game designers at Sucker Punch found ways to give you more powers as the storyline progresses, to the point that you feel nearly godlike at the end.  (It’s still quite challenging in areas, despite your abilities.  I died a lot until I started being more strategic about my approach.)  inFAMOUS 2 is supposed to be even better, and with inFAMOUS: Second Son for the PS4 coming soon, I’ve got a lot more heroics ahead of me.

6. Gravity Rush (PS Vita)
Project Siren developed what is probably my second favorite Vita game.  Admittedly, I didn’t get it at first, and I nearly gave up on it after a few minutes.  I’m thankful that I stuck with it, however, because this title is pretty rad.  You play a character who has the ability to control gravity for short periods of time, which allows you to engage in challenging forms of combat, exploration, and platforming.  Its anime tropes and sensibilities are welcome, since I don’t possess many games like this.  The story is compelling but not always well executed upon (there are some dangling plot threads that it’s announced sequel will hopefully tackle).

7. Unfinished Swan (PS3)
Like Journey, this is another great indie title.  This one is by a developer named Giant Sparrow, and it’s a spectacular first effort.  You play a boy who gets pulled into another world through an unfinished painting of a swan – one where a king from long ago used a magic paint brush to build his own kingdom – and your objective is to pursue that swan who manages to lead you through a beautiful world full of charming narration and wonder.  Unfinished Swan also features a story that teaches an important lesson about the impermanence of human legacy and how it’s more important to appreciate the here and now of life more than your longterm contributions.  I’m excited to see where this studio goes.

8. Limbo (PS3)
Limbo features some of the simplest but strongest art direction you’ll see in video games, using inky black silhouettes and bright, blown-out lighting.  Limbo is also one of the harshest games I’ve played, reveling in its unfairness and darkly comical death animations, which you’ll see much of since you will die many, many times – be that by the creepiest giant spiders ever portrayed skewering you, drowning, getting cut in half by buzz saws, electrocution, being crushed, or any other sick idea the designers had.  But there is a masochist pleasure in playing this indie game, which like Journey features no spoken dialog or narration, but still manages to convey a sense of purpose, a goal to achieve and a reason to achieve it.  Bravo.

9. Beyond: Two Souls (PS3)
Despite being maligned by various members of the video game press, I think this game is about on par with Heavy Rain, which received far more acclaim.  But the tricks Quantum Dream employed this time weren’t all that different, and I think there’s a certain fatigue in playing Heavy Rain and then following it up with this one.  There’s also a sense of frustration for some of those people, who were engrossed by the illusion of choice that Heavy Rain used, whereas Beyond: Two Souls has a much more lead-by-the-nose, linear plot line – a vision that the writers wanted to execute on and not dilute with branching plot alternatives.  The decision to tell the story out of chronological order also baffled many, including myself.  That all said, I found the acting to be hugely compelling (kudos to Ellen Paige and Willem Dafoe for their powerhouse performances), and the conceit was far more intoxicating and intriguing an idea than the one featured in Heavy Rain to me.  It’s worth the time, if you can get past not having as much agency in it as some other games.

10. The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season (PS Vita)
This is a game that would probably have been higher on my list if its performance on Vita weren’t so terrible.  (And I blame Telltale Games for that, since Vita runs every other game I’ve played on its so well.)  That said, there’s a lot to like here, including good voice acting and general sound design, as well as a compelling story lines in each episode – the ending, in particular, is quite impressive.  Telltale made a great decision to not try to create a game directly involving the comic book or television show cast, but instead the developers chose to simply use the “universe” of The Walking Dead and create all-new characters and situations.  Also great is the included add-on 400 Days, which is a set of vignettes about the early days of the zombie outbreak following previously unseen characters.  Very strong stuff.  As for Season Two, I’m now debating whether I should simply switch to PS3 for it, in which case I would feel compelled to re-buy and re-play Season One on that console for the ability to transfer my save.  (That’s a great feature this series has.)  Alternatively, I would have to wait for a Season 2 port to Vita and hope it has good performance.

Looking back at this list, I’m pleased to see three indie titles (Journey, Unfinished Swan, and Limbo), as well as two games by small studios (Gravity Rush and The Walking Dead).  One of the defining developments of this last generation was the fall of the second-tier developer, that is, the ones who made your so-so games (usually rated 5, 6, 7, and occasionally 8 on gaming review sites).  The top-tier developers have remained strong, and are usually the ones who have major blockbuster releases each year, and have regrettably crushed those smaller developers with their onslaught of successful sequels.  In the vacuum that has resulted in these bankruptcies and mergers, indie studios have arisen and really taken the gaming world by storm with thoughtful, innovative titles, the likes of which has come to help define the PlayStation 4’s launch lineup due to Sony’s embrace of these guys.  The notion of playing a handful of large-scale AAA titles per year and filling in the rest of the time with indie titles excites me.  Because of this, I think that gaming is healthier than it’s ever been.

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Snap Judgment – Limbo (PS3)

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Limbo (PS3)

Limbo might be the most sadistic and unforgiving game I’ve played in years, maybe ever.  And it’s wonderful.

You play a silhouetted boy who awakens in a grimly dark forest, alone and without any backstory.  (Throughout the game, you get the sense that you’re trapped in limbo, as the title suggests, and you’re trying to escape it and return to what many theorize is your sister.)

Part puzzler, part platformer, Limbo challenges you with some truly dastardly traps.  It’ll feel like half your mistakes result in your cartoonishly horrifying death.  (Again, you’re just a silhouette, so there’s no gore.  But man, watching yourself get impaled on spikes or crushed by a giant boulder or chopped asunder by saws is still mortifying.)  Oh, and you’ll die often.  Probably two to three dozen times at least, which is saying something since the game is only two to three hours long.  And you’ll be disturbed by how entertaining this can sometimes be.

Thankfully, it’s largely forgiving with your deaths, respawning you close to where you died so you don’t have to repeat large sections of platforming or puzzling, though this isn’t always perfect.  (You’ll say, “Really?” more than once.)

Even though I’ve made this sound more like an ordeal than a fun play through, Limbo is rewarding in itself, as you master these areas.  And despite how unfair some of the traps may feel, you can get good at them — my brother was able to get a Trophy for beating the game with fewer than five deaths.  Even though this took multiple attempts, this still astounds me.

In any case, I highly recommend this artful, stylish title, filled with its magnificent sound design and atmosphere.  Prepare to be chased by a giant spider, electrocuted, crushed, sawed in half, and have your mind bent by physics puzzles that use gravity, magnetism, and your shear platforming skill.  A

Written by Michael

4 November 2013 at 10:09 am

Posted in Games

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